Jim Shaw &
Daniel Guzmán

Artistic Revolution

JS-DG

The Mistake Room is a non-profit organization in downtown Los Angeles that functions as an international hub to commission artists, which for the most part live outside of the United States. In the organization’s first conversation series, Cesar Garcia, Founder, Director, and Chief Curator of The Mistake Room, sat down at NeueHouse Hollywood with artists Jim Shaw and Daniel Guzmán, who have both become pioneers of contemporary art in the United States and Mexico, respectively. Covering everything from music to collective creation, the artists offered an insider’s insight into what it was like to not only live through periods of artistic revolution, but also what it was like to be part of shaping its outcome.

 

Cesar Garcia: A few  months ago I was speaking with Danny Guzman and he said, “My ultimate dream would be to have a conversation with Jim Shaw,” so I sent an email and here we are! Thank you Jim and thank you Daniel for being with us tonight. I wanna start off by talking about your upbringing prior to art school, because both of your practices really merge together the historical and the biographical.

 

Jim Shaw: I grew up in Midland, Michigan which was the home of Dow Chemical until they merged with another chemical company and then it all fell apart. It was a nice little town to raise your kids, so it was boring. I think when you get a bunch of people with advanced college degrees a lot of them fall somewhere in the Autistic spectrum, and I’m probably a part of that spectrum. I had three older sisters who are all academically better than me, and parents who kind of withheld approval if you didn’t do well.

Jim-Shaw-burning-bush

Artwork: Jim Shaw

 

When you have older sisters you don’t know how to be a boy, so I’ve always been intimidated by masculinity and entering that world was hard. I liked monster movies and comic books as a kid, but we also had The New Yorker and all these advertising materials, since my father was a package designer. There was also a pretty great modernist architect in town, Alden Dow, so there was always an exposure to good architecture and occasional art shows. When I first saw articles on Pop Art it was like a wonder world because I didn’t quite get cubism or abstract expressionism as a 10-year-old.

 

CG: What music did you listening to growing up?

 

Jim Shaw: Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, The Beatles, and the big Michigan bands – The Stooges, MC5, The SRC. My sister was roommates with some of the founders of the SDS when she was in University of Michigan back in the ’60s. When I was in ninth grade she had a protest poster that was reproduced in Life magazine, so that really impressed me. The Dow Chemical would have annual stockholder meetings, which out-of-town protesters would show up for, so we would go and hang out with them.

 

By the time I got to U of M the whole protesting thing was kind of winding down, but I remember how exciting it was to watch the Chicago Convention on TV as they were beating people up and being mean to people with long hair. During that time period there was a real cultural cohesion due to the draft and the Vietnam War, so as soon as they got rid of both of those things, it all dissipated into these separated units of people whose whole connection was that they smoked pot or had long hair; it no longer had the youth culture cohesion that it had. I came to California to go to CalArts just as people were starting to exit the States due to the failures of the American Auto industry.

 

CG: Daniel, you came of age in Mexico City in the ’70s and ’80s, which was also a very particular moment, as it was was after the 1968 student movement. Can you tell us about your upbringing during this time, where there was a huge cultural shift in music and literature?

 

Daniel Guzmán: I was born in the center of the city and lived with three sisters, as well as with my mother and grandmother; I had no men around except for my father and my uncles. I grew up in a working class neighborhood, so my experience was very different because I didn’t have a lot of education. My father, who is from Veracruz, and mother, who is from Oaxaca, are both working class – my mother is a secretary and my father worked in a factory, so I didn’t experience going to museums until I was almost 11 years old.

 

My father bought Mexican comics, superhero type stuff, and sports magazines, which I loved. My parents loved football and boxing and they also heard a lot of Mexican music and romantic music. I lived in a small collective space surrounded by similar spaces, so when we would play in the streets you could hear all different kinds of music, particularly romantic and tropical music. When I discovered rock n’ roll it was because a friend of mine had a big collection of The Beatles, Grand Funk Railroad.. especially of Grand Funk Railroad. It’s amazing because nobody wants a big collection of the Grand Funk, which is a band from Michigan.

 

I saw many popular Mexican movies about wrestling or comedies, and my father had a lot of love for James Bond, so I got to see all of those with him, as well as Beatles things. In Mexico, on Saturdays, you could buy one ticket and stay all day at the cinema, which was great because they projected many movies and you could see as many as you wanted.

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Artwork: Daniel Guzmán

 

There were only two art schools in Mexico, so I decided to go to the University of Mexico (UNAM), which is the oldest university in the city. It was a really different world for me because I found this relation and connection to music and literature. I was really lonely during that time, so I read a lot, especially fiction. In school, I discovered a lot of authors, like Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, and Julio Cortázar.

 

CG: After 1968 there was a huge countercultural movement in Mexico City as a result of the protests against the government, ten days before the summer Olympics, which resulted in a brutal and grotesque student massacre. Those were the same Olympic games during which Tommie Smith gave the black power salute, and there was a huge shift – particularly amongst the youth. Were you aware at the time of the extent of events happening in the country?

 

DG: Not really. For me, the political experience was different because in my house we never talked about politics. On the other hand, I was lucky because the friends I made in art school had a lot more experience with that kind of stuff, so they showed me the things I hadn’t seen at home…books and other media about the political movement in Mexico.

 

CG: You both had really interesting and formative experiences in school. Jim, you were at CalArts when people like John Baldessari, Laurie Anderson, and Douglas Huebler were teaching. How important was that particular time period in the formation of your practice and the friendships and communities that formed outside of school?

 

JS: I remember in the 70s there was a new car factory that was opened in Ohio. They had all these college educated line workers who went on strike, and I think that’s the moment when the power structure decided, “We made college way too affordable. We gotta start making it harder to get a college degree because it’s a waste of money to give a degree to someone who’s going to be working in an auto factory.” But at the time I went to school, it was relatively affordable. University of Michigan was $600 a semester, and now it’s about $23,000…and that’s a state school.

 

I was supposed to go to Cooper Union in 1970, but I freaked out in New York City because they didn’t have student housing, and I had no friends there…so I went to a junior college back home for a year and a half, and then U of M, where I met Mike [Kelley] and the other members of Destroy All Monsters. It was the first time I met an adult and functioning artist whose work I liked and could understand, because the work of most of the artists, except for [Gerome] Kamrowski and a couple other people at U of M, was kinda depressing. It wasn’t something that made you want to go out and be an artist and be part of an art world; but there wasn’t really an art world then. Nobody was getting paid to sell art, so we didn’t have any expectations. Life was cheap. You got out of school and you could get a cheap job and live for cheap in L.A.

 

Seeing Laurie Anderson and some of the artwork of the artists that taught at CalArts was important. Baldessari was important because he basically let the students do all the talking. And then you got out of school and you hung out with these people because who else did you know? It was a place where everybody was broke and we’d find some part of the film industry to work in.

 

Once Reagan came in, things started changing. There were a few bums downtown before Reagan came in, and then suddenly there were just encampments of homeless people from closed down mental hospitals. Then other things happened; they started sending work to other countries – first down south, then further south to Mexico, and then finally to China.

 

CG: Daniel, you also had an interesting and almost similar experience, when you were at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. In the late 80s and early 90s there were a group of artists there who have now become common names in the international circuit, like Gabriel Kuri, Damian Ortega, and Abraham Cruzvillegas, who were getting together with Gabriel Orozco every Friday to have an informal workshop where they were looking at literature, reading critical theory, and looking at music that was not being taught in the university curriculum. What was your experience in school like?

 

DG: Staying in school was great, because I found a new world where I could relate to young people. I didn’t see a “career” in front of me at the moment, only the opportunity to share music, books, and experiences about life with people I found in school. With Abraham Cruzvillegas, Damian Ortega, and other young artists, we founded an artist space in Mexico City, called Temistocles 44. It was a run down house in a really rich neighborhood in Mexico that woman shared with us for free. We worked there for four years, inviting many young artists of all mediums who would make special projects. We shared this opportunity to have an independent space and opening the door to different experiences.

 

CG: In the early art years of Mexico City there were a lot of these communal establishments for artists, which became precursors to a lot of the more popular spaces available now. Was that always a way of working for you?

 

DG: Yes, because I feel isolated when I do my personal work, and I felt alone in my career at that time. I was really lucky to find other people who had a similar interest to share space and knowledge to make art. That was the reason to make the collective.

 

CG: The drawings in both of your practices have a really interesting connective thread, in that they both bring together history, biography, music, literature, and religious and spiritual beliefs into an assembled universe. They introduce us to very complex narratives and characters that sometimes recur in other bodies of work. What role does drawing play in the studio and in your practices?

 

JS: It’s pretty much the basis for everything I work on, except for music. If I’m going to do a painting, I have to do a drawing beforehand. When I’m working on pre-existing theatrical backdrops I can’t make too many mistakes, so I have to know what I’m doing beforehand. I’m also a perfectionist, which is too bad, but, I used to do a lot of large drawings. I don’t know if my body can take that anymore with pencil. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with ink, like this last cartoon piece, and getting into the whole difference because I’m so used to using shaded drawing in pencil. To do things in ink, to simplify forms, to tell the story as easily as possible, is a whole different ball game, but I’m sort of using the DC comics of my youth as a model – the work of people like Wayne Borring and Dick Spring.

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Artwork: Jim Shaw

 

DG: When I was in school I had a teacher who showed me many crafters like Rembrandt and Matisse. When I discovered drawing I really loved it. I didn’t have the passion, at the time, to paint, because I didn’t have the compatible materials to prepare for a painting. On one occasion my friend Abraham Crurvillegas, asked me what I did as a child. I told him I made copies of my father’s comics, and he told me, “Maybe you can recover all of these activities…this past is your personal heritage. This is a part of you.” When I was in school the teacher told me to forget about what I was doing before and start from zero. But when I stopped to recover my past of drawing, I also recovered the comfort and the joy of it.

 

CG: Where does text come into your drawings?

 

JS: I’ve been a little fearful of text because I understood I wasn’t the best writer in the world. Doing the comic books is a way of forcing me into coming up with a storyline, and then characters start to form.

 

CG: Do you think drawing is still a viable medium?

 

JS: It’s gotta be. It’s the easiest thing to produce. You can make it anywhere.

 

DG: I think that’s right; you can draw on whatever paper you want. When you buy tortillas in Mexico they give them to you wrapped in a very rough, cheap paper, and I would draw on it because I loved it and it was accessible. I know the way paper works with different drawing materials, and I had a marvelous relation with that paper because of the heritage of my Mexican culture. For me, drawing is one of the best experiences in order to connect with life.

Daniel_Guzman1

Artwork: Daniel Guzmán

 

CG: What does the production process look like in your studios?

 

JS: I’ve got an assistant who traces stuff, and paints things white, and does the simple stuff, while I do all the rendering stuff, for the most part. Once I get in front of the painting or the drawing, it’s as if the world disappears and I get sucked into it. If I didn’t have deadlines I’d overwork everything to death. The thing about making music is I’m a terrible musician and I have to collaborate. I have an over-educated wrist, so I can draw and paint pretty much whatever I feel like, but with music it’s a whole other world.

 

DG: In the studio, I work alone and make almost everything. I share technical problems with a school friend of mine and he helps me come up with a solution, but in the drawings, I do everything. For me, with my band creating is totally different and collaborative, which is kind of a liberation from my personal activity. I have no responsibilities because we share all of the responsibilities together. When we’re playing on stage, it’s a completely different experience, and I’m really in another world. I feel free.

 

You mentioned the collective. The collective is more about making art. It’s a shared responsibility to create a new world, and it’s an anonymous thing.

 

CG: The work you’ve produced functions as a really interesting portrait of the underbelly of society, in many ways. There are a lot of human fears, desires, and anxieties identified within both of your work. I think it would be a missed opportunity if I didn’t ask what you think about the current polarized state of this country.

 

JS: Well you know, I’m a baby boomer from the midwest, so I can understand where all these people who are voting for Trump are coming from. All these people who entered the workforce were supposed to have a job that lasted until they were 65, and then they were going to retire to something nice, but if you lose your job now in your 50s or 60s, you’re sort of shit out of luck.

 

A lot of people are blaming Mexico or illegal and undocumented aliens for their lack of a job, which is absurd, because they’re doing the jobs that nobody else wants to do, like field and agrarian work. The world has also become totally dominated by white European stock. There was a change in immigration law in the 1960s, where they allowed Europeans to immigrate here before changing it to allow the whole world an immigration opportunity. The face of the nation has changed ever since then, and they haven’t gotten used to that.

 

I’ve lived in basically Mexican migrant areas most of my time in Los Angeles. As far as Trump goes, I’d be more scared by a Cruz presidency, personally. I don’t really think he means everything he says, but it’s crazy. I was really shocked that he hasn’t dropped out, because he did the last time he ran. He seems like Sarah Palin; he doesn’t really want to work that hard, but he loves getting all the attention.

 

CG: Daniel, from somebody who lives in Mexico, what do you think?

 

DG: It’s strange, because a big part of the population in Mexico aren’t well informed about who Donald Trump is or what the reasons are for his ideas about Mexican people occupying the workplaces. I think it’s a dangerous thing, because you see a lot of news outlets and media who don’t have hard information to share with the people, and so there is a degree of not taking people like Trump seriously.

 

Photography: Shane McCauley for NeueJournal 

Ferus Gallery

A Conversation with
Ed Bereal, Ed Moses, & Larry Bell

Ferus_Gallery

New York City has historically been the hub for culture, setting itself apart as the city that dictates trends and success in every aspect from business to the arts. In fact, there are very few people who are not familiar with the oft-quoted mantra, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere;” which makes the history of the Ferus Gallery inexorably more interesting. In the late 1950s, and throughout the following decade, Los Angeles – a city as desolate culturally as environmentally – ripped through the art scene with the founding of the Ferus Gallery by Walter Hopps, Edward Kienholz, and, later, Irving Blum.

 

The gallery wasn’t solely the haven for arts in a city reliant on the film industry, but it became the dictum for a new style of creation and super-stardom, turning a slew of artists, such as Ed Ruscha, Robert Irwin, and John Altoon, into legends. The Ferus Gallery revolved around creation and hedonism, and although the gallery closed its doors in 1966, its influence is eternal. In a rare reunion, Ed Bereal, Ed Moses, and Larry Bell – three prominent Ferus artists – sat down for dinner at NeueHouse Hollywood, where they talked to us about everything from sexual freedom to the “secret sauce” that set apart the roster of icons who became part of the Ferus (and art) history.

 

NeueJournal: Do you think the freedom to create something as renegade as the Ferus movement still exists in the art world today?

 

Ed Moses: Of course it’ll continue. Walter Hopps sort of put it all together in this peculiar way; he brought in some really strange outsiders. Irving Blum wanted to come in, he wanted to know why all those people were in there, like Artie Richer and Bob Alexander. They stood at one of the openings one night arguing and Artie and the other guy Boza, said, “Hey man, I don’t wanna ball ya, I wanna fight ya.” And that’s what they were doing. There was this strong sexual encounter that I couldn’t even consider at the time. Only on the view I have now on the thing, I realize, “Yeah, these guys were all horny guys and they wouldn’t discriminate between if it was a man or a woman.” But they just did the women because that’s where they were conditioned, right?

FG_3

Ed Bereal

 

NJ: Who out of the bunch was the wildest?

 

EM: John Altoon.

 

Ed Bereal: I learned a lot of stuff from him, so I got my share of women as a result.

 

NJ: What do you admire most about each other’s work?

 

EM: Every one of these people has this special quality. I call it “secret sauce,” and every one of them has that material. How are they initiated? How do they initiate? There’s a psyche, and they have this thing sort of rattling around, like two wall bearings going back and forth in their brain all of the time. These poor fuckers are walking around with those wall bearings in their heads. I’m trying to get some nomenclature.

 

NJ: How would you describe the color blue to a blind person?

 

Larry Bell: Color blue? I would never try to do such a thing.

 

NJ: If you could relive a moment in your life, which one would you choose?

 

LB: Oh, shit.

FG_2

Larry Bell

 

EM: I remember I fucked this little girl…

 

Everyone: OH MY GOD ED! OH MY GOD, NO!

 

NJ: Let’s ask a different question…Is there anything you look back on that you would do differently?

 

LB: Oh, a bunch of shit.

 

EM: How about everything…

 

EB: How about nothing…

FG_1A

Ed Moses

 

NJ: What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?

 

EB: That’s a Christian question.

 

LB: Yeah, it is a Christian question. I video taped a birth. I don’t know if it was beautiful or not, but it was fucking amazing. People coming out of people is pretty fucking far up, you know?

 

EB: Now that you say that, I would have to agree that just watching my three kids being born was probably…

 

EM: That’s so basic and biological! I can’t accept that situation at all.

 

EB: Well, you weren’t there.

 

Photography: Anthony Cabaero for NeueJournal

Nicola Tyson

'Works on Paper'

NT3

Nicola Tyson’s work is perhaps best known for being explosively colorful, so it’s interesting when an exhibit focuses mainly on her graphite drawings, which is the target of her new (and tenth) solo show at the Petzel Gallery, ‘Works on Paper,’ running until April 23rd 2016. However it’s this particular juxtaposition between color and grayscale, canvas and paper, large scale and smaller works, that makes Tyson such an exciting artist, as she showcases her ability to not only represent various thematics in her work, such as gender, sexuality, and identity, but also various means of representing them. In fact, the contrast found in the Brit’s work is fitting of Tyson herself, with vivacious red hair, minimalist clothing, and a charming personality that balances intellect and humor. As Tyson herself put it when we asked her if she prefered color or black and white, “I’m a monochrome dresser—mainly in black and white, but a colorful painter. So that’s an impossible decision!”

 

NeueJournal: The exhibition Works on Paper presents some of your sketchbook drawings. How do you differentiate when a graphite drawing is a sketch for a color-based piece, and when the sketch is a finished piece in and of itself?

 

Nicola Tyson: I never know what I’m going to draw until I start drawing, and this is often in sketch books, where I work fast, letting the image organize itself until it’s ‘done’. This can result in a finished drawing—that needs nothing more—or one that begs to be developed further through the introduction of color. Those sketches I would work up into paintings.

WOP4

LEFT: Portrait Head #36 2003 | RIGHT: Portrait Head #65 2004

 

NJ: What was the hardest part about interviewing yourself? What was the best part about it?

 

NT: The bifurcation was tricky—making a monolog into an absurd conversation…. and who doesn’t enjoy laughing at their own jokes?

NT_GRAPHITE

LEFT: Full Moon Bloom 2015 | RIGHT: Grazing sheep and sky object 2015

 

NJ: This is your tenth solo exhibition with Petzel Gallery. How does each time change? How is this exhibition significantly different from the other shows?

 

NT: Well, I’ve only had two works on paper shows in the past—although drawing is a huge part of my practice—because such shows are hard to stage in a gigantic Chelsea gallery. However, Petzel’s smaller uptown space—which opened just a year ago—is an elegant, pre-war apartment and is the perfect intimate setting for viewing this type of work. I prefer gallery spaces that are human scale—I know a lot of artists do!

WOP1

LEFT: Portrait Head #36 2003 | RIGHT: Portrait Head #67 2004

 

NJ: When did you realize you are an artist?

 

NT: In elementary school I noticed that I drew people with their feet pointing outwards—in opposite directions—instead of both the same way, like my classmates were doing. Neither of us were correct anatomically, but I felt my ‘people’ were more realistic —which mattered to me then—and less likely to fall over!

 

NJ: Your work often deals with issues of sexuality. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about the topic throughout the years?

 

NT: That anything can be sexualized and certainly any part of the body. Sexuality is not only about genitals, and I find imagery with that emphasis kind of boring and conventional. It’s way more complicated than that!

WOP3

LEFT: Portrait Head #64 2004 | RIGHT: Red Self Portrait 2002

 

NJ: If you could give your younger self-advice, what would it be?

 

NT: Just ask if you don’t know!

 

NJ: Which do you prefer: Coffee or tea? Sweet or salty? Morning or night? Color or black & white?

 

NT: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon. I don’t have a sweet tooth, I’ll take the cheese plate every time. Mornings—sunny ones preferably. I like to work in the morning. I’m a monochrome dresser—mainly in black and white, but a colorful painter. So that’s an impossible decision!

 

NJ: What is the last book you read?

 

NT: Remake Remodel: Art, Pop Fashion and the Making of Roxy Music 1953-1972 by Michael Bracewell. I remember when I heard Pyjamarama for the first time. I was thirteen and transfixed —it was perhaps my first ‘art experience’!

NT_GRAPHITE2

LEFT: Pollen 2015 | RIGHT: The Sweater 2015

 

NJ: What is the first thing you see in the morning?

 

NT: My cat Cyril’s face or rump, depending which way around he decides to sit on my chest…. usually the latter.

 

NJ: If you had twenty-four hours to do anything you wanted without any repercussions, what would you do?

 

NT: Hmmm ‘repercussions’…does it have to be illegal, or will dangerous do? Other than eradicate evil and save the planet, then go on a massive spending spree, there are certain powerful, ancient hallucinogens that I’m curious about. So I’ll sign up for ‘a day trip’ —as long as I come back totally enlightened—and not merely frightened—with, of course, no hangover!

 

Artwork: Nicola Tyson

Portrait Photography: Mitchell McLennan for NeueJournal

Hernan Bas

Illustrated Answers with neo-romantic painter

HernanBas_PORTRAIT_NeueJournal-HarrisMizrahi

If Oscar Wilde were a 21st century visual artist we have a feeling that his work would look somewhat like Hernan Bas’ paintings. It’s no surprise, then, that Bas cites Wilde and Joris-Karl Huysmans as inspirations for his oeuvre, which consists of intricate and colorful romantic paintings that constantly explore nostalgia, the opulent social lives of the bourgeoisie, and, perhaps most evidently, queerness. The Detroit-based artist has gained worldwide recognition, with exhibitions in the Brooklyn Museum, the Saatchi Gallery in London, the Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin in Paris, and more recently his fourth solo show, ‘Bright Young Things,’ at the Lehmann Maupin gallery in New York City, on view until April 23, 2016. In this exclusive interview, the splashy neo-romantic painter shares illustrated answers with us.

 

 

NeueJournal: What was your favorite thing to do as a child?

HernanBas_NeueJournal

Hernan Bas: I played a great deal outside as a very young child. We lived in the middle of nowhere in upstate Florida where wandering the woods was a big thrill.

 

 

NJ: If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?

HernanBas_NeueJournal_IMG_9022 (1)[2]

HB: If I could, I would like to write about art. Aside from that, and as cliche as it may sound, I am really into interior design.

 

NJ: What does your most idealized self look like?

HernanBas_NeueJournal_IMG_9020 (1)[1]

HB: If we are talking strictly looks, I’d say I wish I had the same body I had when I was 20. Aside from that, and if we’re going a bit deeper, I wish I was a little less flaky–I can forget to reply to an email for days on end!

 

NJ: If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

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HB: Crispy bok choy.

 

NJ: What’s your biggest vice?

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HB: Television, it plays in the background of my studio, and I can’t fall asleep without it on. BudLight is on the list too.

 

NJ: What is a talent you possess that a lot of people don’t know about?

HernanBas_NeueJournal_IMG_9014 (1)[2]

HB: I have a green thumb. I love plants, but really I put all my eggs in that painting basket.

 

NJ: What is the first thing you see when you wake up?

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HB: The sun peeking through a curtain, or Jose Diaz Balart on MSNBC if I left the TV on.

 

NJ: What is your most prized possession?

HernanBas_NeueJournal_IMG_9008 (1)[1]

 

 

Artwork: Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong

Portrait Photography: Harris Mizrahi for NeueJournal

 

Takashi Curates

KAZUNORI HAMANA, YUJI UEDA, OTANI WORKSHOP

Takashi

A few days before Japanese artists Otani Workshop, Yuji Ueda, and Kazunori Hamana flew into New York to discuss their group show at the Blum & Poe gallery in New York (running through April 9, 2016) curated by Takashi Murakami, the ground floor of NeueHouse Madison Square turned into a gallery of its own, with enormous pieces by each ceramicist displayed next to each other. The work, although stylistically different, is a testament to the organic nature of the Japanese ceramic work, as all three artists have an appreciation for the raw materiality of clay and the way that it can be maleated artistically. Ahead of their conversation at NeueHouse with Murakami and Tim Blum, we sat down with the ceramicists, where they talked to us about the importance and the beauty of the natural world.

 

NJ: How did the collaboration between all of you come about and what has working together been like?

 

Takashi Murakami: I first chose Otani Workshop around four or five years ago, when he was working with Yoshitomo Nara. I went to a gallery and bought some of his ceramics since I thought his pieces were very gripping, and at the time I was opening a ceramic gallery, which is why I invited him to be a part of it. He introduced me to this guy, Yuji Ueda, whom I knew was a very good ceramic artist, but I didn’t like his pieces because they confused me and were very abstract. However he was very highly recommended to me, and he is the best. Western people have a good reaction to Japanese art, and Ueda’s art falls under that.

 

One day I went to his show and he served me Japanese tea from his grandfather’s tea farm, which was very nice and very sweet. When I drank the tea everything changed. The combination of the taste of the tea and his work’s abstraction…I hated his piece, but hate is kind of the opposite of love.

 

About three years ago I saw Mr. Hamana’s work in a blog, and then a friend of mine, a Turkish guy who was a gallerist in Tokyo, chose a very unique piece by Mr. Hamana, so I called him to ask who the artist was. I ended up buying the piece and then invited him to my gallery, which he was very interested in. In the ‘80s he was in the sneaker business in Japan, importing Nike Air Jordan’s and other popular shoes, which made him a very successful businessman. But he got very tired of this business and went back to the countryside, where he started making ceramics. His career is very interesting and his pieces are very good.

 

What I like is that these three guys are outsiders in the Japanese ceramic scene, so it was great to have them all in my gallery. Mr. Tim Blum, from Blum & Poe, came to my gallery and chose the three of them to make a show in Los Angeles first, and then here.

Takashi_M (1)

NJ: What do you admire the most about each other’s work?

 

Kazunori Hamana: I think what we can each do is probably limited because we are all working with clay. In a sense, our works are all similar, because even though the style might be different, they are organic and focused on the material. If you attempt to change something in the material, it will become artificial, and we are all interested in its nature.

 

NJ: How do you think the influence of Japan makes your work different than that of other artists?

 

Otani Workshop: I can only see things from the Japanese point of view because I’m Japanese, but from my perspective American ceramic artists’ work, concept, color, and shape seem very strong and distinct. So perhaps my own work seems a little bit ambiguous in comparison, and that might be Japanese in nature.

 

NeueJournal_In Conversation: Takashi Murakami

Photography by Samantha Nandez

 

NJ: What do you consider your greatest achievement?

 

OW: I actually went to art school at the Okinawa Prefectural University of Arts in Naha, but my hometown is close to a traditional ceramic production area, which is why I sort of, by default, started getting involved in ceramics. I always wanted to somehow make art involved in what I am doing, so in that sense the fact that Takashi found me and now I’m able to show in New York is an accomplishment.

 

KH: As Takashi explained, I have had so many different jobs and careers, and I’ve also lived in so many different locations, so I have a background that has allowed me to establish a very solid foundation for what I’m doing right now. I wouldn’t call myself a ceramicist, in the sense that I wouldn’t make a plate when someone asked me to make a plate, but I’m actually facing more of a larger question – almost as large as “What is life?” or “What does it mean to live?” I feel that right now I’m finally standing at the starting point of the quest to start exploring that, so that is an accomplishment.

 

Yuji Ueda: My family is involved in tea farming, like Takashi explained. Since Takashi’s bar and coffee shop is handling our tea, they are introducing tea and soil, which is a parallel to my work, which deals with clay and soil. So both tea and my work are being introduced to wider audiences of people, and for me that is an accomplishment.

 

NJ: If you were able to work with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be?

 

OW: Cy Twombly, because I have a lot of great respect for him.

 

KH: I agree that Cy Twombly would be amazing to work with, but he’d probably be very difficult (laughs).

 

YU: Without Takashi getting involved and meeting us it would have been difficult to come to the attention of a wider audience, so it was a great thing that we met Takashi.

 

NeueJournal_In Conversation: Takashi Murakami

Photography by Samantha Nandez

 

NJ: Which historical figure do you most identify with?

 

KH: Maybe The Monk Iku, because of his thought process of gradually getting closer to a zen state.

 

YU: The town I am from is famous for their Shigaraki ceramics, but it’s also the hometown for Koga Ninjas, who were aristocracy in the 9th century.

 

NJ: What do you want your work to say to the viewer?

 

OW: This is difficult, but maybe in the appearance and the texture of the piece itself I want people to feel the presence of something.

 

KH: A bottle, for example, has a utilitarian purpose of holding something in it, but when I’m making something that looks like a vase I’m not thinking of making a vase to hold flowers. Of course, you can put a flower in it and use it as a vase, but it is not made specifically for that purpose. Not everything has to be categorized, and although this is fine, I feel like in this present society we over-categorize. I’m constantly asking the questions, “What is necessary? What is unnecessary? Is what you consider unnecessary really unnecessary?” The intention of my work is to partly digest this and then present it in my own way.

 

NJ: What do you think is the most important thing a person can achieve in their life?

 

KH: For me it would be to be myself, and live like myself. If each person can shine in their own way I think that’s very interesting. I believe achieving happiness is important – not just to oneself, but to the people around you. Of course, when things are tough, things are tough, but there is a sense of satisfaction in succeeding through that. Doing your best is the best thing to do.

 

NJ: What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?

 

OW: I can’t pinpoint a specific thing, but nature that includes us as human beings.

 

YU: I was born and grew up between mountains in a hilly part of Japan, so when I first saw the ocean it was an amazing experience.

 

KH: The sky.

 

Portrait Photography: Manolo Campion for NeueJournal 

Oliver Jeffers

Humor & lots of thoughts about seagulls

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Oliver Jeffers is funny; and that’s an understatement. The artist’s work has an immediate recognizability to it, with illustrations that live somewhere between tongue-in-cheek and incredibly charming. With an amalgamation of work, ranging from best-selling picture books, including The Incredible Book Eating Boy and The Day Crayons Quit, to various paintings that have been exhibited in the likes of the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Brooklyn Museum, Jeffers’ work caters to multiple audiences, all while retaining a characteristic playfulness. The Belfast-bred, Brooklyn-based artist gave us an illustrated insight into his colorful brain, which features humor and lots of thoughts about seagulls.

 

NJ: What is the first thing you think about when you wake up?

 

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NJ: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?

 

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NJ: What is your most prized possession?

 

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NJ: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be and what would you be doing?

 

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NJ: What is your biggest fear?

 

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NJ: If you were a superhero what would your power be?

 

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NJ: What is your favorite hobby?

 

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Artwork: Oliver Jeffers for NeueJournal

Portrait Photography: Tyler Nevitt for NeueJournal